Concerto for Cello
(on the Psalms)
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Jacobi composed his Concerto for Cello (on the Psalms) while in Switzerland in 1932, shortly after the premiere of his Sabbath Evening Service at Temple Emanu-El, and he revised the orchestration in Gstaad in 1950. On a spiritual plane, the concerto is almost quasi-liturgical, and indeed, at the time, it was cited as an outgrowth of his inner experience in writing his first synagogue service. It was inspired by the Book of Psalms—in particular, Psalms 90, 91, and 92—and it is actually a series of meditations on sentiments expressed in, and evoked by, those Psalms. The three movements are each prefaced in the score by a quotation from Psalms:
I. Allegro Cantabile: “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.” Psalm 90:1
This concerto is no virtuoso display vehicle for the soloist, but an invitation for intense solo instrumental singing, spiritual introspection, and intimate reflection. In his program notes for a Cleveland Orchestra performance, critic Herbert Elwell described the three movements as presenting three different aspects of the same religious mood: the tender, the buoyant, and the poignantly dramatic. And common to all three is an undeniable spirit of confidence, whether calm or jubilant—the confidence in God and His protection that is proclaimed in those Psalms. The concerto received its premiere in Paris in 1933, played by cellist Diran Alexanian and conducted by Alfred Cortot at the École Normale.